Columbus Day a victim of the economy for city employees

PLYMOUTH — Plymouth’s Common Council has made it official: There is one less paid holiday on the calendar for city employees and Plymouth firefighters will have the equivalent of two less.
Mayor Mark Senter’s administration presented a paid holiday calendar with the normal 13 paid holidays that had always been presented over the years, and that schedule came into question by the Council. Consensus of the Council members was that the city needed to adopt a calendar more in keeping with the private sector, which in many cases, offers as few as eight days a year.
Previously, the Council had voted down raises for public officials in the city in keeping with an economic climate that still seems unsettled. For the holiday calendar, Columbus Day became the latest victim of the recession.
In the course of discussion over holidays during the weeks it took to pass an ordinance, the subject of Plymouth Fire Department holidays came under scrutiny. Under past ordinances, firefighters had received six paid holidays a year and the current ordinance will cut that back to four.
“The thing that hits you first is that it is very, very difficult to compare the schedule of a regular city employee to a fireman,” said Plymouth City Attorney Nelson Chipman.
At the crux of the problem is the firefighter normal working schedule. Firemen work one 24-hour shift and then have two 24-hour shifts off.
“A substantial amount of that 24-hour shift is spent in ordinary every day activities,” said Chipman. “It’s a very different type of schedule and it isn’t easy to compare it to another one. It’s just a totally different way of working.”
Currently a normal Ply-mouth fireman will work a total of 122 days a year. They were allowed six paid holidays, while a rookie firefighter receives three vacation days a year — a veteran more based on his years of service. Firemen are the only city employees allowed to accumulate compensatory time — up to 480 hours — that can be banked.
The feeling of the Council was that if regular city employees were going to be cut paid holidays, firemen should also have paid time cut. The extra time was a consideration because if a fireman takes a paid day off, under the current schedule, he would be off work for a total of five days.
“There is no question this is a vital community service and the work of our fire department is appreciated and important to Ply-mouth,” said Chipman. “My impression is that the Council felt that if they were asking other employees to make a sacrifice, they had to ask the same of the fire department.”
Former fire chief Wayne Smith voted no on the ordinance saying it was unfair to the Fire Department and pointing out that firemen work almost 900 more hours each year than other city employees, adding that when other city employees are asked to work a holiday, they are compensated with extra time for the day.
The ordinance will not go into effect until next year — 2011 — so Columbus Day this October will see city offices closed.